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Film / Lights of New York

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"This is a story of Main Street and Broadway — a story that might have been torn out of last night's newspaper"

Lights of New York is a 1928 talkie — the first full-length movie to feature a completely synchronized dialogue. It was the debut film by Brian Foy, who later became the head of the B-unit at the Warner Brothers and proceeded to turn out over 20 movies each year for next two decades, earning the nickname "Keeper of the B's". The movie was shot in just eight days, on a $23,000 budget, and grossed over $1,200,000 despite being torn into pieces by critics. The title of the first all-talking movie was an attraction big enough not to worry about quality.

The story itself is a crime drama. Two bootleggers, hiding in Upstate New York, plan to return to Broadway. They convince a young guy Eddy and his friend, the local barber, to join them and open a barber shop in New York. Too late Eddy finds out that their business is just a front for an illegal booze store. Eddy is in love with a girl from his town, Kitty, who had moved to New York before him and now performs at a night club, owned by a gangster named Hawk who controls the bootlegging business behind the barber shop. Hawk makes advances towards Kitty, dismissing his old-time mistress Molly.

During a bootlegging raid, a policeman is killed, and Hawk decides to frame Eddy for it. Kitty overhears and warns Eddie. When Hawk arrives to the barber shop, Eddie confronts him, Hawk pulls a gun, but someone shoots him from behind the door and runs. Before they can dispose of the body, the police arrives, so they disguise it as a sleeping customer. Eddy runs while the barber tries to fool the policemen, but they find the corpse and he tells him everything he knows.

Eddie and Kitty are preparing to flee the town, but police detectives come after them, accusing Eddie of murder. Before he's arrested, Molly arrives and confesses that it was her who killed Hawk for dumping her (it's strongly implied she's taking Kitty's blame, though it's left ambiguous), and that it was Hawk who killed the policeman. The detective arrests her and advises Eddie and Kitty to leave the city, which they do.

Lights of New York provides examples of the following tropes:

  • An Aesop: Delivered by Eddie in the final dialogue with the detective: "We want to do right to each other and everyone else. There's no luck in anything else".
  • As You Know: Right in the first scene and several times after that.
  • Chekhov's Gun: A literal gun that Eddie gives Kitty for self-defense. Later Hawk is killed with this pistol either by Kitty or by Molly who claims she had stolen it from Kitty's dressing room.
  • Deadly Euphemism: Hawk instructs the bootleggers to murder Eddie, first saying "Make him disappear", and then delivering a Large Ham in form of later parodied "Take him... For... A ride".
  • If I Can't Have You…: Molly states this as her reason for killing Hawk: "When he told me he was through with me, I made up my mind he was through with all women".
  • Hollywood Darkness: The dark night when the policeman is killed is bright enough for the viewer to see sharp shadows on the wall.
  • Lame Pun Reaction: There's a scene where a bypasser asks a cop where's the other side of the Broadway, and, when shown, answers that it's strange: people there just told him this side was the other one. The policeman is not amused.
  • Of Corpse He's Alive: Barber tries to disguise dead Hawk as a customer, shaving him, talking to him and pretending he's asleep. Unfortunately, the body drops from the chair.
  • Shadow Discretion Shot: The scene of the policeman being killed.
  • Talking Heads: The film is notorious for consisting almost entirely of long, repetitive dialogues, acted either wooden or hammy. As a modern reviewer put it, "It's definitely one of the very few films that lives up to its advertising. When it said 'the first 100% all talking picture', it meant it".
  • Take That!: To all the silent movies (that weren't actually silent: while lacking speech, they were accompanied by music). The first scene starts with a closeup of a playing radio, then a bootlegger walks in and tells his partner to "shut up that music".
  • That Reminds Me of a Song: Part of the movie is set in a night club, so director put in a song number with zero plot significance.